With my abstract art style, I tend to go through a lot of paper. It's easy to go through 6 or 8 pieces of 5x7 paper in a warm up session for me. To keep my costs down, I'm frequently buying full sheets and tearing them down to smaller sizes, because precut and blocks of paper tend to be a bit pricier per inch than full sheets. (Yes I'm that nerd and I really did the math once! Don't tell my mother or my former math teachers either.)
I'm gonna harp on this again: paper is suuuuuuper important in watercolor. If you buy 100% cotton paper that's a minimum of 140#, you're just gonna get better results and hopefully won't feel like learning watercolor is as much of a struggle. It will also allow you to stretch your supply dollars by using both sides of the paper--which effectively cuts the cost in half.
I've tried a lot of different papers with the help of sample packs. At first I tried to be fairly rigorous in my testing, but fell off that wagon very quickly. So here's my brief and non-exhaustive impression of the 100% cotton watercolor papers I've tried.
One more disclaimer before we get started: I don't scrub or lift out very often, so I have not tested those techniques on these papers. If that technique is important to you, you might want to bounce right now since I have no idea how these papers will hold up to that.
- Bee Paper - The first 100% cotton paper I bought in full sheets. I consider it a "soft" paper, which means it's more supple than something like Arches, and paint absorbs into it faster as well. Nevertheless, it's a good economical, starter paper.
- Fabriano Artistico - A stiff paper, one of my faves, very similar to Arches. I think it curls a little bit less than many other papers.
- Arches - Another stiff paper. When I fold it to break it down, it crunches. Usually available in most art stores in a small pad. This is a "gold standard" brand--very reliable, used by many many professionals. It smells funky when wet, and is fairly expensive.
- Kilimanjaro - This is Cheap Joe's in-house brand of cotton watercolor paper, so it's pretty economical. However, it curls the worst of all papers I've ever tried and so I cannot recommend it in good conscience.
- Saunders Waterford - Another stiff paper, which I prefer, so I like this quite a bit, but it's a bit harder to obtain in the US in my experience. I recently got 10 sheets of the 200# which is a great compromise between heavier weight paper (which should buckle less when wet) and price.
- Winsor & Newton - A soft paper. I got 10 sheets on super sale so I think of it as very well priced paper. I've also tried a rough grain block and it's really fun for texture.
- Lanaquarelle - This one didn't make much of an impression on me. I believe it only comes in natural, not bright, white, and I'm not a fan of how yellow it seemed.
- Shizen - I received some of this paper for free when I met the business owner. It's got a very distinct texture, and is fairly stiff. It doesn't start off super flat & adding water can make it buckle more.
- Aquarius II - The only watercolor paper I've tried that's less than 140#, this 80# paper is very thin and soft. It actually worked fine for my palette knife abstracts since they're one layer and done, but for most other "normal" watercolor purposes I would not recommend this one.
After all this discussion of watercolor paper, you know what I just realized? I've never gotten a paper cut from watercolor paper. Another reason 100% cotton paper is the best thing since pre-sliced cheese!
So what papers have you tried and were your impressions the same? Leave me a comment and let me know!